Notes Psychology

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Part II, Chapter 1: Emanations)

Part Two: The Cosmogonic Cycle

Marduk and Tiamat
Marduk and Tiamat

Chapter 1: Emanations

1. From Psychology to Metaphysics

Myths resemble dreams, they are both manifestations of the unconscious. Symbols represent unconscious desires, fears, and tensions.

“Mythology, in other words, is psychology misread as biography; history, and cosmology.”

But myths are not the same as dreams although they come from the same source (the unconscious) and have the same language. Myths, unlike dreams, are not products of sleep. They are consciously controlled, and their purpose is to serve as an imagistic representation of social wisdom and spiritual principles. And these principles have remained constant throughout history, on a biological/neurological level, since the same patterns of thought have remained the same cross-culturally, and since our earliest historical records.

Essentially, the “universal doctrine” teaches that everything in the world are the effects of a ubiquitous power. This power which gives things their temporary shape and form, will eventually destroy it. Scientifically, this is known as “energy.” Christians think of it as the power of God, the Hindus conceive of it as “shakti”, while it is known as “libido” to the psychoanalysts.

God and gods are a means of transmitting a message, they are “mere symbols to move and awaken the mind, and to call it past themselves.” Heaven, hell, and all representations of the divine are symbols of the unconscious according to psychoanalysts. In fact, whatever exists in the metaphysical realm exists in the unconscious, and vice versa. The Biblical image of the Fall represents a lapse of super consciousness into the state on unconsciousness.

Consciousness is constricted because we do not see the source of universal power, but only the effects. And this constriction turns super consciousness into unconsciousness, and in the same moment, and by the same way, creates the world. Redemption is found in going back to the state of super consciousness and destroying the world. And this series of events represents the mythical image of the cosmogonic cycle: “the mythical image of the world’s coming to manifestation and subsequent return into the nonmanifest condition.”

And in the same light, the individual’s birth, life and death is a descent into unconsciousness and return. And while still alive, the hero knows and represents “the claims of the super consciousness which throughout creation is more or less unconscious.” The adventure of the hero represents the moment in his life when he was illuminated, it was when he was able to find and open the pathway to light beyond the “dark walls of our living death.”

Mythological symbols can be interpreted in two ways. One, as a sign of people’ ignorance, and the other as a sign of one own’s ignorance, either by reducing psychology to metaphysics, or metaphysics to psychology. Regardless, these symbols give us information through metaphors about man’s destiny, hope, faith, and dark mystery.

2. The Universal Round

So far in this chapter, Campbell has been emphasizing the parallel between the unconscious and mythology. And here he gives into more depth. In the same way we transition between conscious state of mind, to an unconscious slumber mysteriously, the universe (as portrayed in mythology) mysteriously comes in and out of creation. And as the individual’s mental and physical health depends on the reliable pattern of transitioning from waking life to sleep, the “continuance of the cosmic order is assured only by a controlled flow of power from the source.” The gods symbolize the thing that governs this flow.

This was an interesting line about “cyclic conflagration” from the Stoic doctrine that reminded me of the moment in the movie “K-PAX” when Prot says that the universe goes through repeating cycles where the same mistakes are repeated again.

“All souls are resolved into the world soul or primal fire. When this universal dissolution is concluded, the formation of a new universe begins (Cicero’s renovatio), and all things repeat themselves, every divinity, every person, playing again his former part.”

3. Out of the Void – Space

The basic principle of mythology is of the beginning of the end, and in that sense is tragic. Creation myths have a sense of doom to them, but in another sense, it is untragical – since it places our “true being” in an immortal light.

4. Within Space – Life

“Each soul and spirit prior to its entering into this world, consists of a male and female united into one being. When it descends on this earth the two parts separate and animate two different bodies. At the time of marriage, the Holy One, blessed be He, who knows all souls and spirits, unites them again as they were before, and they again constitute one body and one soul, forming as it were the right and left of one individual…This union, however, is influenced by the deeds of the man and by the ways in which he walks. If the man is pure and his conduct is pleasing in the sight of God, he is united with that female part of his soul which was his component part prior to his birth.” – the Hebrew Zohar,

The ultimate experience of love is realizing that an identity that separates male from female is an illusion. This is another recurring theme throughout the book. In Genesis, with the story of Adam and Eve, and in Plato’s Symposium, this idea of “each is both” is represented.

5. The Breaking of the One into the Manifold

There are two essentially different perspectives in mythology. The first involves the existence of the Unmoved Mover who puts things into motion and allows them to interact spontaneously. There is a harmony to how things move about. But when the perspective is shifted towards the people (who the Unmoved Mover put into existence), suddenly, things no longer appear harmonious or smooth. Instead, there is a struggle, and destiny – rather than flowing naturally from a certain course of events – needs to be fixed into shape.

Man experiences the thorns and thistles of the earth and eats bread from the sweat of his brow.

The dichotomy that Campbell calls to our attention is the two modes of myth. The first is when the gods work for the continuity of the cosmogonic cycle, and in the other, the gods are acting against its progress. The second is represented through many ancient myths, one of which is the Babylonian story of Marduk and Tiamat.

In this story, the hero is Marduk (the sun-god) while the victim is Tiamat (demonic, the terrible mother). Tiamat is a “female personification of the original abyss itself: chaos as the mother of gods, but now the menace of the world.” Marduk arms himself with his weapons and confronts Tiamat.

. . . But Tiamat turned not her neck,

With lips that failed not she uttered rebellious words. . . .

Then the lord raised the thunderbolt, his mighty weapon,

And against Tiamat, who was raging, thus he sent the word:

“Thou art become great, thou hast exalted thyself on high,

And thy heart hath prompted thee to call to battle. . . .

And against the gods my fathers thou hast contrived thy wicked plan.

Let then thy host be equipped, let thy weapons be girded on!

Stand! I and thou, let us join battle!”

When Tiamat heard these words,

She was like one possessed, she lost her reason.

Tiamat uttered wild, piercing cries,

She trembled and shook to her very foundations.

She recited an incantation, she pronounced her spell.

And the gods of the battle cried out for their weapons.

Then advanced Tiamat and Marduk, the counselor

of the gods;

To the fight they came on, to the battle they drew nigh.

The lord spread out his net and caught her.

And the evil wind that was behind him he let loose

in her face.

The terrible winds filled her belly,

And her courage was taken from her, and her mouth

she opened wide.

He seized the trident and burst her belly,

He severed her inward parts, he pierced her heart.

He overcame her and cut off her life;

He cast down her body and stood upon it.

And the lord stood upon Tiamat’s hinder parts,

And with his merciless club he smashed her skull.

He cut through the channels of her blood,

And he made the north wind bear it away into secret places….

Then the lord rested, gazing upon her dead body, . . . and

devised a cunning plan. He split her up like a flat fish into two halves;

One half of her he stablished as a covering for heaven.

He fixed a bolt, he stationed a watchman,

And bade them not to let her waters come forth.

He passed through the heavens, he surveyed the regions thereof,

And over against the Deep he set the dwelling of Nudimmud.

And the Lord measured the structure of the Deep….

Heroically, Marduk created a ceiling and a floor for the waters above and beneath, and then in between, created man. But the conflict is not what it seems. Even though Tiamat was slain and dismembered, she was not permanently destroyed.

From another point of view, Tiamat (the chaos monster) shattered herself at will, and her parts moved towards their intended locations. Marduk and all the other gods were nothing but “particles of her substance.” In other words, since they were manifestations of Tiamat herself, they could not possibly triumph against her.

6. Folk Stories of Creation

Folk stories often talk about the arrangement of the world, the creation of man, and the determination of death. It’s not obvious how serious these myths are taken, but they are certainly viewed more as popular fairy tales than as a book of genesis. The stories often represent reality as it “seems to be” rather than how it is, and the element of comedy is not uncommon as well. Another common theme is the existence of a clown who works in opposition to the good creator.

Campbell tells us a story about The Melanesians of New Britain. There was once an obscure being “the one who was first there” who drew two male figures on the ground. He then cut open his own skin and poured blood over the drawings. He then covered the figures with two leaves that he had plucked. And these figures later became known as To Kabinana and To Karvuvu.

To Kabinana climbed a coconut tree and picked two light yellow nuts that were still unripe. He threw them to the ground, and when they broke, became two beautiful women. To Karvuvu was impressed with the women and asked his brother how he created them. “Climb a coconut tree,” To Kabinana said, “pick two unripe nuts, and throw them to the ground while they are pointed upwards.” But To Karvuvu threw the nuts and pointed them downward, and two ugly women emerged instead with flat noses.

On another day, To Kabinana carved a Thum-fish from wood, and sent it off to the ocean where it would live there forever. And these Thum fish drove Malivaran fish towards the shore where To Kabinana waited. To Kabinana then gathered the fish, and again To Karvuvu saw what happened and wanted to know how he could do the same. To Kabinana taught him, but To Karvuvu carved a shark instead of a fish. The shark ate the Malivaran-fish instead of driving them towards the shore. To Karvuvu regreted his decision, and when he explained to his brother that he drew a shark, To Kabinana replied, “You really are a disgusting fellow, now you have fixed it so that our mortal descendants shall suffer. That fish of yours will eat up all the others, and people too.”

The story has some similarities to the Biblical account of Cain and Abel. Rather than viewing this story as a naïve folk tale, you can see how it is a commentary of the existence of good and evil, and how they come about through actions.

It is also very common to represent the antagonist in the story as a clown (Batman). They can either be clever and deceptive or thickheads. And despite their success in the temporal world, their work becomes futile in the face of the transcendental. They mistake “shadow for substance: they symbolize the inevitable imperfections of the realm of shadow, and so long as we remain this side the veil cannot be done away.”

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Part II, Chapter 1: Emanations) 1

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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